How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike Tire for Your Style of Riding
Let’s admit it; we put a lot of emphasis on bike geometry, suspension, and components when we consider what makes a mountain bike perform well. But when the rubber meets the trail, it’s your choice of bike tires that can give you an extra edge on your ride.
Today, tires are designed meticulously for optimal performance and any surface conditions. As a result, there are many tire options out there for all kinds of riding. However, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you may end up buying ill-fitting tires for your bike.
At Epicenter Cycling, we carry top mountain bike tire brands such as Bontrager, Maxxis, Continental, Schwalbe, and WTB. After reading, stop by one of our locations for your fresh set of tires.
Here we provide a how-to guide on identifying which bike tire is ideal for you based on riding style.
Why Bike Tire Choice Matters
Choosing the right bike tires will significantly enhance your riding experience. And there are more factors than you probably realized about bike tires that determine how your bike will feel while riding. Good tires can improve traction, comfort, and roll faster to increase efficiency. Quality tires can also last for months without a puncture.
But how do you know which design factors should you look for to reap the optimal benefits from your bike tire choice? A quick answer: It’s simply dependent on the terrain conditions you choose to ride on and your riding style.
You may notice that tire design is a dance between rolling efficiency, traction, puncture resistance, and tire weight.
Read on to find out what you need to know to determine your bike’s ideal tire.
Mountain Bike Tires
A good starting point is knowing the diameter of your mountain bike rims or simply knowing your “wheel size.” The diameter is equivalent to your wheel’s height. The standard measurements for mountain bike tires you will come across are 29 inches, 27.5 inches, and rarer nowadays, 26 inches. Kids’ mountain bike tires typically are 24 inches in diameter.
Smaller wheel size and, therefore, smaller tire size equates to a more nimble ride with faster acceleration. The tradeoff, however, is more rolling resistance which makes rolling over objects less efficient. In comparison, a bike with 29-inch tires will keep speed for a longer duration than a smaller wheel size but is less playful than its 27.5 inch and 26-inch counterparts.
For all factors involved with bike tire choice, the type of riding you do and the type of terrain you ride on will determine what tire size is optimal for you.
Next, it’s essential to consider your mountain bike tire width. The standard width of a mountain bike tire is between 1.6-2.6 inches. Any wider, and you’re heading into “Plus Tire” sizing, which is ideal for providing traction and stability in slippery trail conditions such as sand or snow.
A word of advice when it comes to a wider tire choice: be sure your bike’s frame and fork clearance to ensure a wide tire will fit! The rim of your wheel may accommodate a plus tire but your frame may not. It’s about paying attention to the details…
Thinner tires are ideal for long-distance rides because they have such high rolling efficiency and are lightweight. But they provide less grip and stopping power because there is less surface area to contact the ground. Conversely, wider tires offer plenty of traction but have less rolling efficiency.
Here is a general guide to tire width by mountain bike discipline:
Cross-country: 1.9-2.3 inches
Trail/All-Mountain: 2.3-2.5 inches
Enduro/Downhill: 2.5-2.6 inches
Plus Tire: 2.8-3.0 inches
MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRE CASING
Next, consider what kind of tire casing is most favorable for your type of riding. The casing of a tire indicates how thick the wall of the tire is. A tire’s casing is crucial in supporting the structure of the tire. The thickness of the woven material inside the rubber of the tire indicates the type of casing. If you want to nerd out on tires with me, tire casing is measured in “thread per inch” (tpi).
The thicker the casing, the more puncture-resistant the tire is. But with more material inside the casing, the heavier the tire is. If you trend towards riding in rough trail conditions with rocky features and dirt, you would err on the side of caution by purchasing a tire with a thick casing.
If you prefer dropping as much weight as possible on your bike for those long cross-country rides with smooth terrain, you will fair well with lightweight casing.
MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRE COMPOUND
Another factor is tire compound. Tire compound refers to the stiffness of the tire’s rubber. Many bike companies design tires with single, dual, or triple compounds (check out Maxxis Tires for their cutting-edge triple compound selection).
With single compound, the rubber of the tire is a uniform hardness. Tires designed with two or three different compounds on different parts of the tire are, of course, “dual compound” and “triple compound.” The benefit of having a dual or triple compound tire is that a tire can have a hard compound in the center of the tire for rolling efficiency and a softer compound on the edges to ensure better grip on the dirt while cornering.
For example, a tire may have a hard compound on the center knobs of the tire to produce a fast-rolling effect, with knobs made from a softer compound on the edge of the tire to ensure a consistent cornering grip.
Tire engineers measure tire compound in Shore A (sA). Most bicycle tires have a score of 70sA in a range of 0-90. A higher score indicates a stiffer compound. So if you had a tire with a score of 40 sA, that compound would be ideal for downhill riding where you want plenty of traction through the dirt.
Quick takeaway about tire compound: the softer the compound, the better the grip! The harder the compound, the faster the tire will roll!
TREAD PATTERNS FOR EVERY TRAIL CONDITION
Grab one of your spare mountain bike tires, or peek at the tires currently on your mountain bike. Notice the different knob sizes and heights; this is the tread pattern. Tread pattern varies in design to allow for an ideal riding experience on various terrain conditions.
The center knobs of your tread pattern provide stopping power. The knobs on the edge of the tire are responsible for the amount of traction you will have while cornering.
If your bike tire has tall knobs in the center, you’ll have excellent stopping power but sacrifice some rolling efficiency. If the knobs on the edge of your tire are tall, then you’ll have more grip in corners. If you want better rolling efficiency because you prefer cross country riding, purchase a tire with shorter and smaller knobs on its tread pattern.
Now that you have a solid foundation of knowledge regarding mountain bike tires, you’re ready to purchase your new tire set! Just remember to note the following:
- Know your wheel size, as this equates to your tire size.
- Terrain conditions you typically ride on.
- Do you need a lightweight casing or puncture-resistant, heavy-duty casing? Or somewhere in between?
- Which tire compound best suits your riding style? A uniform and hard compound for rolling efficiency? Or a softer compound for optimal grip?
- Tread pattern influences your bike’s movement in terms of stopping power, grip, and rolling efficiency. Can you now look at a tire’s tread pattern and know how it will dictate your riding experience? If not, go back to our section on tread pattern!
I promise there is no pop quiz at the end of this article on mountain bike tires. But you don’t want to flunk the real test of picking out the optimal tires for yourself... Luckily, at Epicenter Cycling, our staff is here to clarify the different elements you should consider about tire choice, ensuring you feel confident about your purchase.
Let’s get you shredding on my-bike-has-never-felt-this-good-before-tires! Walk-ins are welcome at Epicenter Cycling. See you soon!